Tom Murphy, Microsoft's director of corporate communications, corporate citizenship & community affairs

Contrary to claims, Irish luck has little to do with Tom Murphy’s successful career path in public relations

What’s your current role at Microsoft Corporation’s headquarters, including areas of involvement?

I am currently working as director of corporate communications for Microsoft’s corporate citizenship and community affairs programs. It’s a really interesting role, with loads of variety. In a given week I can be working on communications around our citizenship efforts, working with product groups on launches, working with traditional and social media, dealing with nonprofits, managing events, collaborating with our teams around the world or even managing the odd issue as the need arises.

I am one of those incredibly annoying people who loves his job. When I took this role in March 2009, I uprooted my long-suffering family from Ireland—where I was working with Microsoft, managing our local public relations and citizenship programs—to Seattle, Washington. I should clarify that rumours that I was looking for the only place in the United States with higher rainfall than my country of origin are untrue. Honestly.

Detail your public relations-related roles in former positions

I’m pretty depressed to report that I’ve been working in public relations since 1992. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man (which I am), at that time there was no e-mail or no voicemail. Plus “research” meant driving to the local business library to thumb through photocopied press cuttings. The tools have changed irrevocably. As someone who embraces technology, I’d say they’ve changed for the better.

I learned all of the basics working with a small PR agency in Dublin, dealing with a range of technology companies, from Microsoft to Intel, Gateway and Corel. After a few years I started doing more international PR work. In 1995, I made the jump to an in-house role, with an Irish software company called Iona Technologies. That was an incredible learning experience. We went through the full NASDAQ IPO process and I had the opportunity to build out PR strategies, teams and programs across North America, Europe and Asia. In the late 1990s I returned to the agency world with Text 100 and headed up a regional consulting team offering PR services to technology companies across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In 2001, I moved back in-house with a software start-up, primarily working in the U.S and Europe. Then in 2005 I moved to Microsoft Ireland.

What things in your public relations’ skill set/tool kit were responsible for your recruitment to director of corporate communications, citizenship, Microsoft Corporation?

Well, you’d probably have to ask the people who hired me. I am a firm believer in being passionate about what you do. I also support Gary Player’s belief that the harder you work the luckier you get. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with companies of every size, in a variety of functions, in many different markets around the world. That has given me a great perspective in approaching different issues and opportunities.

Hard work, experience, creativity, passion and humour are qualities on which I personally place a lot of value.

Please provide an example or two of a direct innovation or outcome Microsoft has experienced since you accepted the position

This is a difficult question to answer. In a large company one is always working and brainstorming with teams. It’s rare that you have the sole claim on an idea or outcome; rather, ideas evolve through the process. I think one thing we’re doing at Microsoft, in my specific area, is broadening the reach of our citizenship communications with the recognition that a company’s responsibilities to society are becoming more important among more audiences.

I think the other major change is the growing focus on how we can sensibly integrate social media into everything that we do. Sometimes people underestimate the work involved in extending communications to social media. Or else they treat social media as an island. The reality is that traditional PR and marketing remain important and effective. I personally believe that successful and sustainable social media programs must be tightly integrated with the rest of our public relations and marketing work. The real trick is in understanding how social media can extend the effectiveness of those efforts.

Is there anything you miss about your former role(s) and life?

I’m really enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest and I consider myself incredibly lucky with the roles I’ve chosen throughout my career. Each and every one of them has been interesting and provided me with great learning opportunities—absolutely key to professional and personal satisfaction.

In fact, I think the most significant criteria for me in any role boils down to whether:

  1. There is still an opportunity to learn.
  2. Big challenges remain.

I think, as a result, I don’t miss any of my previous roles; the time was right for a change.

One admitted downside of moving on is that you leave behind valued colleagues and friends. That’s something I do miss, rather often.

Any words of advice to PR practitioners considering changing career paths?

This may appear obvious, but I think that the first thing people must do is to get really clear on what they are looking for in life. When we’re faced with the cacophony of the day-to-day job, we sometimes lose sight of our bigger goals. Changing career paths represents a great opportunity to think clearly about what you want to do and what you want to achieve.

I am a firm believer that you need to have a passion for what you do, and that will help you do your best work. I’ve been very lucky in that regard. Because you can practise in any industry or market in the world public relations is a great career choice. So I recommend to other practitioners that they find a market or business that they’re passionate about.

Finally, I think it’s imperative that we all embrace, understand and mobilize social media to support our objectives and our storytelling where it makes sense. Be pragmatic, don’t chase the shiny object, but do consider it as an integral part of your strategy and execution.

Thanks are extended to Tom Murphy for graciously agreeing to be our inaugural PR Motion profile; he’s set the bar high!

Check out Microsoft Corporation web pages related to Tom Murphy’s work. Read his personal blog Tom Murphy — Murphy’s Law or follow him on Twitter. Reach Tom by e-mail at tom.murphy@microsoft.com.

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